All Hallows’ Eve

Today, of course, is Halloween – the time when many people put candles inside pumpkins, wear elaborate costumes, and go from house to house collecting candy from neighbors.  (We do some pretty strange things sometimes, don’t we?)  This is a festive time of year; it’s the last outdoor celebration we will have before the weather turns cold for the season.  It’s a time for neighbors to talk, laugh, share, and enjoy each other’s company.  It’s a time for children to put more sugar into their bodies than their parents usually allow.  All in all, everyone has a good time!

The name “Halloween” reminds me that this is also a time for spiritual reflection.  Halloween certainly isn’t a religious holiday, but it does have ties to a religious theme.  “Halloween” is thought to be a contraction of the name “All Hallows’ Eve,” which is the night before “All Hallows’ Day” or “All Saints’ Day.”  On November 1 (or, for some Christians, another day in the year), the vast majority of Christians around the world pause to remember those believers who have died in the past year and are now entrusted fully to the Lord’s care.  The night before All Saints’ Day is, in a sense, a time of preparation for the remembrance to occur on the following day.

Several years ago, I was worshiping with a United Methodist congregation while I was in graduate school.  On All Saints’ Day (or the nearest Sunday to it), we gathered for a regular worship service.  During the course of this service, there came a time when the pastor read the names of church members who had died in the previous year.  After each name was read, someone rang the large bell in the church tower.  Although I didn’t know any of these individuals because I had just moved to their town, I felt grateful to be part of a worship experience in which believers gathered to give thanks for the lives of their loved ones.

On this year’s All Saints’ Day – and today, on All Hallows’ Eve – I hope you can take a few moments to pause and give thanks for the gift of life, the ability to buy candy, the opportunity to wear costumes, the enjoyment of neighborly company.  And I hope you take a moment or two to reflect on the mystery of life and death:  that those who die in the Lord are entrusted to his care and will be raised to new life when Christ returns.  We as a congregation are well aware of those to whom we have said goodbye in the past few months.  Remember them as well, and give thanks that they are among the millions throughout history who have finished this earthly race in the faith.

Then be sure to enjoy this secular holiday and all its festivities, too!  For what it’s worth, my favorite part of Halloween is how the price of Halloween candy plummets on the next day.  Enjoy this introspective yet joyous season, church!

–Pastor David

Discerning God’s Call

Normally, I don’t like to talk about politics in the church.  That’s because any given congregation is comprised of people with varying political beliefs, and I don’t believe it is appropriate for a pastor to preach politics from the pulpit.  We gather together on Sunday mornings to give praise to God and to learn from him; Sunday gatherings should not be for political manipulation or persuasion.

Sometimes, however, the spheres of politics and religion overlap – perhaps more frequently than we realize.  In the past few months, our society has been observing and studying several different Republican candidates for President.  Some of these candidates have made a fascinating religious claim:  that they have been called by God to run for this office.

I have a personal history with experiencing God’s call on my life.  My call to ministry is something I share publicly, and if you don’t know my story, I would be glad to tell you someday.  So when I hear other people speaking openly about God calling them to one particular task or another, my ears perk up a little bit.  What does that call mean to them?  What does it look like?  What are the ramifications of that call?  How do we know if that call is valid?  Are we sure that this is an authentic call?

I do not doubt that God can call individuals to play certain roles in society.  Some are called to be teachers; others are called to be construction workers.  Some are called to be secretaries; others are called to be plumbers.  Some people are called to raise families.  Some people are called to exercise leadership.  And the way God calls people to these tasks may be quite different from person to person.

Perhaps you simply can’t conceive of doing anything other than this with your life.  Perhaps you have an internal sense, a drive within your spirit, that pulls you into this area of work or service.  Perhaps other Christians have identified strengths in you, and you have put those gifts to work in a particular field.  Maybe you have even heard God’s voice speaking to you, instructing you to move in a certain direction.

Whatever the case may be, I believe firmly that God’s call for individuals (a) must be consistent with the teachings of scripture and (b) must be validated and confirmed by other honest, integrity-filled members of the church.  That is, God doesn’t call people to do things that go against what the Bible teaches.  And God doesn’t call people to do things that nobody else agrees with.  (Even reformers like Martin Luther and D. S. Warner had supporters surrounding them.)

So what are we to make of presidential candidates expressing a call from God to run for this office?  My advice is this:  Don’t put too much weight on these calls.  Scripture teaches about the kind of character required of leaders in the church – and it would be nice if our national leaders had the same character.  But the office of President of the United States is a secular office which requires specific political, economic, legislative, and executive skills.  (And I should add that it does not require a specific divine call!)  We should be cautious of anyone who claims to be called by God to be our President – similar to how a congregation should carefully investigate anyone who expresses a call to serve as its pastor.

–Pastor David

The Joy of a Wedding

I have the privilege of performing the wedding ceremony for a couple at their home in our neighborhood later today.  These two aren’t part of a church family, but they wanted to be married in a religious ceremony rather than at the courthouse.  They called our church a few months ago and asked me to marry them, and I agreed:  they seem well matched for each other, and I am honored to play this important role in their lives.

Over the past few months, I have met with them on several occasions to get to know them better and to help them understand the Christian approach to marriage.  I’ve seen some of the difficult life situations they face, and I’ve learned their perspective on their relationship and what marriage means to them.  Last night, we had the official wedding rehearsal – which was followed by my first experience eating a deep-fried turkey! – and I was struck by the joy and excitement of all who were in attendance.

Weddings are (usually) such enjoyable occasions.  If all goes well, the uniting of husband and wife is a reason for everyone to celebrate.  All the stress and tension that goes into planning a wedding seems to disappear once the ceremony begins.  And certainly once the ceremony is over, the participants can look back on all the preparatory work and (hopefully) say, “All that work was worth it!”

We as believers in Christ are constantly preparing ourselves for a great wedding that will take place when Christ returns.  As Revelation 19:6-8 (NIV) says:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

Brothers and sisters, we are in that season of preparation for our wedding day.  Let us continually work on clothing ourselves with appropriate wedding attire, so that when the Lamb comes and the wedding begins, we will be ready – and so that we will be able to say, “All this preparation was worth it!”  What a day that will be!

–Pastor David

The Need for Discipline

When I was a teenager, I spent a good deal of time and energy playing chess.  I developed a love for the game in childhood, but I never played “competitively” until middle school.  I remember that my first experience with a chess tournament resulted in a record of one win and four losses – not the most auspicious of beginnings to a chess career.

For some reason, I chose to devote myself to this game rather than to band, choir, 4-H, or other activities like those chosen by most of my friends at school.  Through a process of weekly practice sessions, tournaments through the school year, and individual study on my own, I developed into a pretty decent chess player.  I never won 1st place in an official tournament as an individual, but I often placed in the top ten and helped our team to do well from time to time.  The “crowning achievement” of my chess career was helping my school win the Indiana state team chess championship in my junior year of high school – a story so full of drama and tension that it would make for a good movie.  (At least, I would watch it!)

The need for discipline is a fact of life.  Discipline is required for any task at which we want to excel, whether it be a game like chess, a career or trade, a relationship with a spouse, or even a relationship with Christ.  It seems that we are quick to agree to training for a job or something “enjoyable,” while we are frequently hesitant to train for excellence in our relationships.  Why is this so?

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV), Paul encourages us to “run in such a way as to get the prize.”  Of course, he is not writing about a literal footrace but rather about our walk of public discipleship.  Sharing Christ with those around us is so important that we should summon up all our energy for the task.  But any runner (distance or sprint) will tell you that you can’t just run and win the race.  You must train and train and train in order to be able to compete.  In fact, you will spend more time in preparation than you will actually racing.

Paul continues, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Following Christ with our lives is hard work!  We must be dedicated to disciplines that will help us run the race:  prayer, Bible study, regular worship, fellowship with the saints, confession of sins to God, and so forth.  Are you engaged in these types of spiritual disciplines?  A better question:  are you excited about engaging in them?  I believe we could all stand to be more like aspiring high school chess players in our spiritual lives.

Stewardship of Life

Jesus cleverly evaded the Pharisees’ attempt to trap him in Matthew 22:15-22 by revealing their hypocrisy.  What does this have to do with the biblical concept of stewardship and our new church budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year?  Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s message on this topic.

Listen now!

Production note:  About 2 minutes into this recording, Pastor David’s wireless microphone batteries died.  The rest of the sermon was recorded from a distance by other microphones in the sanctuary.  We apologize for the poor quality!